Whether you like it or not, the PC industry is evolving at an ever increasing pace. You can purchase a top of the range computer for around $4000, only to find that after a period of six months it is already outdated and not fit to run the latest games/software. What if I told you that you could squeeze extra speed out of your computer without spending a cent or moving out of the chair you are sitting in right now? Sounds crazy doesn't it? Join Asher "Acid" Moses as he explains how to tweak your BIOS for maximum performance.
Whether you like it or not, the PC industry is evolving at an ever increasing pace. You can purchase a top of the range computer for around $4000, only to find that after a period of six months it is already outdated and not fit to run the latest games/software. Obviously, this can prove very frustrating for many of us that unfortunately, do not have the money to keep upgrading our PCs. What if I told you that you could squeeze extra speed out of your computer without spending a cent or moving out of the chair you are sitting in right now? Sounds crazy doesn't it? Well, as you will find out while reading this guide, it is very do-able and actually quite easy.The key to unlocking this extra performance is called the "BIOS". Before I explain how to tweak the BIOS settings for optimal performance, I will briefly explain what a BIOS is and talk about its role in the PC.Note: The Award BIOS version 6, revision F6, was used in this guide. The BIOS version that you are currently using may be slightly different from the one used here. Please take this into account when reading however, the basic settings in your BIOS should be very similar.Disclaimer - TweakTown and the writer of this guide take absolutely no responsibility for any damage you do to your computer while performing the tweaks listed in this guide.
BIOS Tuning -
What is a BIOS?BIOS stands for "Basic Input/Output System" and is one of the three types of software your computer needs to run properly. The first type of software is the "Operating System", which put simply, is software designed to control the hardware of a specific data-processing system in order to allow users and application programs to make use of it. The second type is applications, which are programs that give a computer instructions that provide the user with tools to accomplish a task. The third type, the BIOS, differs from the software listed above in a few ways. One of them is the fact that instead of being installed from a disk, it is a read-only memory chip that is soldered onto the motherboard. The other main difference is the tasks it performs. A BIOS is the set of routines stored in read-only memory that enable a computer to start the operating system and to communicate with the various devices in the system, such as disk drives, keyboard, monitor, printer, and communications ports. Once your operating system starts, the BIOS sits in the background, until your next reboot.When you turn on your computer, the BIOS performs a POST (Power On Self Test), which makes sure all of the hardware components in your system are working properly. It then activates the BIOS chips on the other components in your system and finally interfaces your hardware components with the operating system stored on your hard drive. So basically, the BIOS gives the microprocessor its first instructions and then makes sure your computer is ready to run the operating system. On top of this, the BIOS contains various customizable settings and information about your computer's components and how they run.Now that we've established what a BIOS is, let's find out how to tweak it.
BIOS Tuning -
Flashing your BIOSBefore you start performing the tweaks outlined in this guide, I highly recommend that you flash your BIOS with the latest revision, as found on your motherboard manufacturer's website. The updated BIOS fixes bugs in previous versions, occasionally increases performance and sometimes adds more options to customize. There are a few risks involved with flashing your BIOS, so I recommend that you backup important data before doing so. Here are some steps on flashing your BIOS:1. Download the latest BIOS from your motherboard manufacturer's website. On the same site you will most probably also be able to download a flash utility that is required to flash the BIOS. I recommend that you download Award's Flash Utility.2. Make a bootable floppy, which for Win9x users will be your startup disk that you created when installing your operating system. Windows 2000 users will have to download a boot disk program to make the boot floppy for them. The best bootdisk source in my opinion is BootDisk.com. Look for a Windows 98 bootdisk.3. Place the .bin BIOS file onto the bootdisk along with the flash utility.4. Reboot your system with the boot floppy in the drive and it will take you to a command prompt. Once there, type "A:\" to access the floppy drive and then, use the flash utility to update the BIOS. If you downloaded the Award Flash Utility, type "AWDFLASH.EXE".5. The BIOS flash utility will then ask you to enter the name of the BIOS file (e.g. "bios.bin").6. The BIOS will then be updated and you will be told when the update has been completed. When this happens, remove the floppy disk from the drive and reboot your PC.
BIOS Tuning -
Configuring the BIOSBefore you can configure the BIOS, you have to be able to get into it in the first place. When you turn on your computer, after the memory test has completed and the hard drives are detected, at the bottom left hand corner of the screen you should see something that says "Press to enter setup". Usually, is either "Del", "F1", "F2" or "Esc", but it varies from system to system.Once inside, you are greeted with a set of menus that take you to various sections of the BIOS. The sections we will be focusing on in this guide are "Standard CMOS Features", "Advanced BIOS Features", "Advanced Chipset Features", "Integrated Peripherals", "Power Management Setup" and "Frequency/Voltage Control". Of course, not every BIOS version will feature the same menu setup as this, however, hopefully the general options contained inside these menus will be fairly similar.
BIOS Tuning -
- Standard CMOS Features
Date - Pretty self-explanatory really. Set the current date.Time - Similar to the Date option, set the current time.IDE Primary Master - This is your primary master IDE device, usually the hard drive. Selecting this option and hitting enter will bring up a sub menu that allows you to set the access mode, capacity, cylinders, heads, landing zone, sector and precomp of the device. I recommend that you set these to auto detect if you are not sure what you are doing.IDE Primary Slave - This is your primary slave IDE device. It has the same sub menu options as IDE Primary Master.IDE Secondary Master - This is your secondary master IDE device. It has the same sub menu options as IDE Primary Master.IDE Secondary Slave - This is your secondary slave IDE device. It has the same sub menu options as IDE Primary Master.Drive A - Select the first floppy drive that is installed in your PC. This is usually a 1.44MB 3 1/2" drive.Drive B - Select the second floppy drive that is installed in your PC. If there is only one floppy drive installed, select "none".Video - Select the type of display adapter installed in your PC. This is usually EGA/VGA.Halt On - This is where you can choose what errors your system will halt on during POST. I sometimes boot up my PC without a keyboard, so I selected "All, But Keyboard".
BIOS Tuning -
- Advanced BIOS Features
BIOS Flash Protection - This, if enabled, stops the BIOS from being flashed by unauthorized users. This option is best left as "auto" for most of us. First Boot Device - This option allows you to select the first bootable device that the BIOS will search for an operating system on. This should be set to wherever you have your operating system installed, which is usually "HDD-0". Second Boot Device - If the first boot device fails, the BIOS will search for a second boot device. For faster boot times, set this to disabled.Third Boot Device - If the first and second boot devices fail, the BIOS will search for a third boot device. For faster boot, set this to disabled.Boot Up Floppy Seek - If this option is enabled, upon bootup the BIOS will look for a floppy disk drive in your system. If there is no floppy drive in your system, it will display an error message. This is best set to disabled as it will improve your boot time.BootUp NumLock - When set to "On", the NumLock key will be enabled on boot up. I like to leave it Off, but it is a matter of personal preference.Password Check - If a password has been set (from a option in the main BIOS menu), when set to "System" you will be asked for a password every time you turn on your PC. If "Setup" is selected, it will ask for the password every time you want to enter the BIOS. This is useful if you are a computer retailer and don't want people fooling around with the BIOS. Interrupt Mode - Interrupt mode is for advanced IRQ allocations. There are two options, APIC and PIC mode. In APIC mode, the system detects as an ACPI Uniprocessor system. This is an advanced ACPI interface allowing IRQ allocations up to 23. PIC is standard ACPI and allows for a Max IRQ of 15.Boot to OS2 or DR-DOS - Enable this if you have more than 64MB memory and want to boot to other OS like OS/2 or DR-DOS.HDD S.M.A.R.T. Capability - S.M.A.R.T or Self Monitoring Alert and Retrieval Technology, monitors your hard drive's RPM, temperatures and IDE transfer data to make sure no data corruption occurs. Not all HDDs support this but if yours does, I recommend enabling this option.
BIOS Tuning -
- Advanced Chipset Features
CAS Latency Time - The CAS Latency option controls the time delay that passes before the memory carries out a command. Simply put, the lower the CAS Latency selected, the more performance you will be getting because the memory will carry out tasks quicker. However, not all memory modules will support such high speeds. Start off by setting it to 2 and if you experience instability, kick it up to 3. Active to Precharge Delay - This determines the amount of CPU cycles that active data can accumulate before the ram is purged. For optimal performance, set this to "auto".DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay - This option selects the time delay between the Row Address Strobe (RAS) and Column Address Strobe (CAS) signals. Obviously, the lower the delay, the better the performance.DRAM RAS# Precharge - This is where you can select the number of CPU clocks allocated for the RAS (Row Address Strobe) signal to accumulate its charge before the DRAM is refreshed. If insufficient charge is applied, refresh may be incomplete which could cause data loss. For optimal performance, set this to "2".Refresh Mode Select - The "Refresh Mode" is the speed at which each of the rows in the DIMM are refreshed. With 128Mbit DIMMs, because they contain 4096 rows, can refresh each row at 15.6 µsec. This is worked out using the formula 64,000 µsec / 4096 rows = 15.6 µsec. 64,000µsec (64msec) being the speed at which memory cells need to be refreshed. From this information we can say that because a 256Mbit DIMM has 8192 rows, the refresh time is halved, because there are twice as many rows to be refreshed in the 64,000µsec time period, equaling 7.8µsec. Increasing the Refresh Mode will give higher performance because it is wasting less bandwidth. This means power consumption is reduced as well.DRAM Read Thermal Management - This is a new Intel i845 feature that monitors DRAM temperatures and reduces the aggressiveness of the DRAM timings. This results in cooler DDR SDRAM but a slower memory performance. For optimal performance, disable this option.Delayed Transaction - It is a well known fact that the ISA bus is significantly slower than the PCI bus. When enabled, delayed transaction frees the PCI bus from slow ISA accesses by allowing the PCI device to write to an integrated 32bit buffer while an ISA device is occupying the system bus. If you use ISA devices in your system, make sure you enable this setting.AGP Aperture Size (MB) - This is the amount of main memory that is allocated to the AGP device. Using this function the AGP card can process data from the main memory itself, instead of onboard memory. It is important to select the AGP Aperture Size wisely because too much will cause lack of memory for other operations and too little will give low graphic performance. The AGP aperture size should be set to half, or a quarter of your system memory. So, if you have 256MB system memory you should set your AGP aperture size to either 128MB or 64MB.Delay Prior to Thermal - This is for the Pentium 4 only and is used when the CPU overheats. Setting this option to either 4 min, 8 min or 16 min is the time elapsed before the system will allow the CPU to throttle back up to full power. Optimal setting is 16 minutes.
BIOS Tuning -
- Frequency/Voltage Control
This is the area where you will find most of the options that enable you to overclock your processor, whether they be increasing the frequency (FSB speed), or increasing the voltage, which in turn enables higher overclocking results. Due to the fact that the motherboard used in this guide is a Pentium 4 based motherboard, the option for multiplier adjustment is not there (Intel CPUs feature a locked multiplier).CPU Host Frequency (MHz) - This option allows you to change the FSB (Front Side Bus) speed of your processor. The overall clock speed of your processor is worked out by the formula multiplier x FSB = clock speed. Therefore, if you have a multiplier of 9 and a FSB of 150MHz, then the clock speed of your processor is 1350MHz. Most processors have a default FSB speed of either 100MHz or 133MHz. The more you increase the FSB, the higher performance you will get. Increment this by 1MHz at a time until you experience instability, in which case you will reduce it by a few MHz and test again. Keep doing this until you find the maximum speed your system will allow, without becoming unstable.PCI/AGP Divider - This setting allows you to lock the PCI/AGP bus at a certain speed. The advantage of this is that you can set your FSB (Front Side Bus) speed much higher, without having the PCI/AGP bus as a bottleneck. Thus enabling much higher overclocking.Host/DRAM Clock ratio - This controls the DRAM frequency. You can set it to 100MHz, 133MHz or even 166MHz if you're motherboard supports DDR333 memory. If you have memory rated at 100MHz, try setting it to 133MHz for increased speed. If you experience instability, drop it back down to 100MHz. If you have 133MHz memory, try 166MHz and so on.DIMM OverVoltage Control - This option allows you to adjust the voltage of your memory module/s. Increasing the voltage will help you maintain stability at high overclocked speeds. Be warned though that the higher you increase the voltage, the more heat your memory modules will generate. If there is too much heat, your system will become unstable anyway, defeating the purpose of the voltage increase. Make sure your system has sufficient cooling before overclocking/increasing the voltage for best results.AGP OverVoltage Control - This option allows you to adjust the voltage of your AGP card. Increasing the voltage will help you maintain stability at high overclocked speeds. Be warned though that the higher you increase the voltage, the more heat your AGP card will generate. If there is too much heat, your system will become unstable anyway, defeating the purpose of the voltage increase. Make sure your system has sufficient cooling before overclocking/increasing the voltage for best results.CPU OverVoltage Control - This option allows you to adjust the voltage of your CPU. Increasing the voltage will help you maintain stability at high overclocked speeds. Be warned though that the higher you increase the voltage, the more heat your CPU will generate. If there is too much heat, your system will become unstable anyway, defeating the purpose of the voltage increase. Make sure your system has sufficient cooling before overclocking/increasing the voltage for best results.
BIOS Tuning -
- Integrated Peripherals
On-Chip Primary PCI IDE - This option allows you to enable or disable the primary IDE channel. If disabled, IDE devices connected to the primary IDE channel will not function. If you are using this channel, enable it, if not, disable it to free up an IRQ.On-Chip Secondary PCI IDE - See On-Chip Primary PCI IDE.IDE Primary Master PIO - PIO stands for "Programmed Input/Output". This option allows you to select the PIO mode for your primary master IDE device. The higher the PIO mode, the higher the maximum throughput of your IDE device. It is recommended that you set this to "auto" because trying to set it to a speed higher than what your IDE device was designed for can result in data loss.IDE Primary Slave PIO - See IDE Primary Master PIO.IDE Secondary Master PIO - See IDE Primary Master PIO.IDE Secondary Slave PIO - See IDE Primary Master PIO.IDE Primary Master UDMA - This option allows you to enable or disable UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) support. UDMA is a new protocol for the interface between your computer and the hard drive. It is double the speed of the traditional ATAPI/EIDE protocol. It is recommended that you leave this as auto so the BIOS can automatically detect whether your IDE device/s support UDMA.IDE Primary Slave UDMA - See IDE Primary Master UDMA.IDE Secondary Master UDMA - See IDE Primary Master UDMA.IDE Secondary Slave UDMA - See IDE Primary Master UDMA.IDE1 Conductor Cable - This is where you can manually selected the transfer speed of your devices connected to IDE1 (e.g. ATA33/66/100/133). You can't set it to anything higher than what your device supports so this is best left set as "auto".IDE2 Conductor Cable - See IDE1 Conductor CableUSB Controller - This option enables or disables the USB controller. Enable this if you are using USB devices. If you are not using any USB devices, disabling this option will free up an IRQ. Init Display First - This option allows you to select the primary graphics card that your system will boot with. If you are using more than one graphics card (e.g. An AGP and a PCI card), select the one you want to use as the primary card. For most of you this will be the AGP card.
BIOS Tuning -
- Integrated Peripherals Cont.
Onboard USB 2.0 Device - This option enables or disables the USB 2.0 controller. Enable this if you are using USB 2.0 devices.Onboard Sound - This allows you to disable or enable onboard audio, if it exists on your motherboard. If you wish to use onboard sound, enable this option, otherwise disable it as it could interfere with your primary sound card.Onboard ATA/RAID Device - This option allows you to enable or disable the onboard ATA/RAID controller. If you have a RAID array setup, enable this, if not, disabling it will free up an IRQ.Power On By Mouse - This lets you select whether or not you want your system to turn on by clicking one of the mouse buttons. This is set to "Button Only" by default, which means your system will only start up when you press the power button on your case.Power On By Keyboard - This lets you select whether or not you want your system to turn on by pressing a key on your keyboard. This is set to "Button Only" by default, which means your system will only start up when you press the power button on your case.Onboard FDC Controller - Here you can enable or disable the floppy drive controller. If you have a floppy drive connected to your PC, enable this option. If not, disable this option to free up an IRQ.Onboard Serial Port 1 - This option allows you to enable or disable the first onboard serial port. You can also select its I/O address and IRQ. This is best set as "Auto".Onboard Serial Port 2 - This option allows you to enable or disable the second onboard serial port. You can also select its I/O address and IRQ. This is best set as "Auto".UART Mode Select - This option becomes visible if you have enabled serial port 2. Here you can select the appropriate modes for your infrared device/s. If you don't have any infrared devices, leave this option at its default setting.UR2 Duplex Mode - This option becomes visible if you have enabled serial port 2. The Duplex Mode is the transition mode of the IR port. Full duplex allows two-way simultaneous transmission, while half duplex only allows one direction at a time. Set this to full duplex for the best performance.Onboard Parallel Port - Here you can select the IRQ and I/O address for the onboard parallel port. This is best left as default unless you run into problems.Parallel Port Mode - This option allows you to select the parallel port mode, with the default option being SPP (Standard Parallel Port). The other options available are EPP (Enhanced Parallel Port) and ECP (Extended Capabilities Port). EPP and ECP are both faster than SPP, with the ECP mode supposedly being better for large data transfers. For optimal performance, I recommend setting this option to either EPP or ECP.ECP Mode Use DMA - If you select the ECP parallel port mode, this option allows you to select its DMA channel. This is best left at default (3) unless you run into problems.AC BACK Function - The AC Back function allows you to set the PC behavior for when the power comes back on after an outage. This is a matter of personal preference, but I have it set to "Soft-Off".*Thanks to SezaGeoff from the Overclockers Australia Forums for clearing up some confusion regarding what the AC Back function does.CIR Port Address -This allows you to manually select the CIR Port IRQ. This is best left at default unless you are experiencing problems.
BIOS Tuning -
- Power Management Setup
ACPI Suspend Type - Here you can select the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Management) suspend type that will be used. If you select S1 (Power On Suspend), power is still given to the system and the data is kept on the HDD and RAM but the processor is halted, whereas, if you select S3 (Suspend To RAM), the system/application state is saved to RAM (Random Access Memory) and power is cut to most components.Video Off Method - This option allows you to select how your monitor will be turned off in power saving mode. The options are "V/HSYNCH Blank", "DPMS" and "Blank Only". V/HSYNCH Blank causes the video card to shut down the vertical and horizontal sync signals to the monitor, as well as sending blanks to the video buffer. This is ideal for monitors without DPMS. DPMS (Display Power Management System) shuts down parts of the monitor's circuitry after a period of inactivity. Blank only writes blanks to the video buffer. For optimal performance, select DPMS.Video Off In Suspend - This option allows you to select whether or not you want your video card to operate in power saving mode. The default setting is "Yes".Suspend Type - Here you can select a suspend type of S1, S3, S4 or S5. S1 or Stop Grant is power on suspend. This just halts the processor and all data is kept on the HDD or RAM. S3 is suspend to RAM. This is where the system/application state is saved to RAM (Random Access Memory) and power is cut to most components. S4 is Hibernate (suspend to HDD). No power is given to any component, but your current OS settings, etc., are stored so when the PC is turned back on it goes back to where you left it. S5 is soft-off. No power is given to any system component, current configuration is not saved.MODEM Use IRQ - This option allows you to select the IRQ of your modem. This is best left as default unless you are experiencing problems.Suspend Mode - This option enables you to select how long your system can be inactive before shutting down. This is a matter of personal preference, but I prefer it set to "Disabled".HDD Power Down - Here you can set your HDD to power down after being inactive for a certain amount of time. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but I prefer it set to "Disabled".Soft-Off by PWR-BTTN - This allows you to select the delay between when you press the power button to when the system turns off. If you set it to "3", then you will have to hold the button for three seconds. If you set it to "Instant-Off", then your system will power down as soon as you press the button.PME Event Wake Up - This allows you to select whether or not you would like your system to wake up from power saving mode when a PME event occurs.ModemRingOn/WakeOnLan - If this setting is enabled, an incoming LAN or modem call will awaken the system from power saving mode.Resume by Alarm - If this setting is enabled, you can select the exact time and date for when your system will power on.
BIOS Tuning -
ConclusionThis concludes the TweakTown BIOS Tuning guide. Hopefully after performing the tweaks listed in this guide, you have unlocked the extra performance that is literally hidden inside your system. I did not write this guide with the intent to provide extreme detail about each setting, but rather to give you a brief overview of what each BIOS option does and what the optimal settings are. As always, your questions/comments are very welcome and you may contact me in the Forums.
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